restricted access 1. Hidden Children: The Literature of Hiding
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1 Hidden Children: The Literature of Hiding ALAN L. BERGER Of all the voices from the Holocaust we [hidden children] have been the most silent and the least noticed. Robert Krell1 Speaking of his experience as a hidden child during the Holocaust, the Israeli psychologist Shlomo Breznitz recalls his father's comment that "hiding at best only delays the final outcome." The elder Breznitz believed that hiding was pointless because "sooner or later the Germans would find everybody ; their hunting of Jews was too systematic to be derailed by a temporary disappearance."2 His assessment was chillingly accurate. Approximately 1.5 million of the 1.6 million prewar Jewish child population in Nazi-occupied Europe were murdered. This means that only 6 to 7 percent of Jewish children lived through the Shoah. Hidden in a variety of places including farms, barns, cellars, pigsties, convents, and monasteries, their hiding experience invariably robbed them of their childhood; indeed, Andre Stein speaks of hidden children being "evicted from our childhood" (emphasis added).3 Although many of the child survivors have led successful lives, their hiding experience left them a complex psychosocial and theological legacy that had a profound impact on their sense of identity and consequently, for a long time, left them uncertain as to what exactly they were bearing witness. In this chapter, I first present an overview of the issues of Jewish identity and bearing witness among hidden children in the Holocaust. I then focus on three works: two memoirs of Jewish children hidden in different parts of Europe, Ruth Kapp Hartz's Your Name Is Renee, as told to and written by Stacy Cretzmeyer, and Nechama Tec's Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood; and a novel, Elisabeth Gille's Shadows of a Childhood.4 Four themes emerge from these written works: fear of abandonment by 13 14 ALAN L. BERGER parents and by God; the psychic disorientation imposed by a new identity necessitated by the invention of a life history in order to survive; silence and a lack of understanding of why this happened to them; and a search for justice. While these themes do not receive equal weight in the works under discussion, each forms a part of the mosaic of the legacy of hiding. In addition , I note two types of motives for rescue, including the theological ambivalence of "responder" altruism in the accounts of Tec and Gille and the "idealist" altruism portrayed in the story of Hartz.5 I conclude with possible lessons learned from the writings of hidden children. The Crisis of Identity: Religious and Psychosocial Dimensions The question of identity among hidden children is profoundly complex, involving memory of trauma and embracing both their Jewish affiliation and their identity as survivors. Concerning religion, for children old enough to have a memory of Jewish ritual and family life, being forced to hide led in many cases to a fundamental confusion about their Jewish selves. For example , it was typical for hidden Jewish children to be exposed to the religious beliefs and attitudes of their Christian foster parents. Some of these children did not wish to leave the safe haven provided them during the war. The religious dimension of this issue is twofold. On the one hand, there was an outright rejection of Judaism, as in the case of the nine-year-old girl who proclaimed, "The Jewish God killed my parents. He burned my home. Jesus Christ saved me."6 On the other hand, Christianity was embraced as salvific. Viewed through the lens of a young child, Judaism was "bad"; it caused the child to be separated from his or her parents. Christianity, for its part, was "good" because being Christian meant being protected. What can be said is that for many of the children who emerged from hiding, their Christian identities were far better formed than their Jewish selfhoods. The path back to Judaism frequently was strewn with many psychic and theological obstacles. Robert Krell, hidden in Holland at age two, emphasizes the psychic dislocation experienced by hidden children, noting, "I had been torn from my parents twice. Once at age two from my Jewish family, once at age five from my Christian family."7 Furthermore, the postwar situation of hidden children was itself fraught with peril. Many remained with their Christian hiding parents. Jewish agencies and organizations disputed their future. Moreover, a biological parent or parents who survived the camps had also undergone trauma; they themselves were now orphans who were...


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Subject Headings

  • Judaism and literature -- United States.
  • Jews -- United States -- Intellectual life.
  • Holocaust survivors in literature.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945), in literature.
  • Postmodernism (Literature) -- United States.
  • American literature y20th century xHistory and criticism
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- United States -- Literature and the war.
  • American literature -- Jewish authors -- History and criticism.
  • Judaism in literature.
  • Jews in literature.
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